In a last-minute effort to rescue his three-family house from being demolished in the wake of a serious fire, landlord Ronald Candelora rushed to the scene, grabbed a flashlight, and went inside. He ended up in handcuffs.
Candelora (at right in above photo with an insurance adjustor) owns 594 George St., the site of a stubborn fire that displaced 10 people and sent smoke billowing through the Dwight/Kensington and West River neighborhoods Wednesday afternoon.
All the house’s tenants escaped the fire unscathed. One fire lieutenant injured his arm, but returned to work Thursday, according to Assistant Chief Ralph Black. Meanwhile, the American Red Cross found temporary shelter in a hotel for the single woman and family whose apartments were destroyed.
City Building Official Andy Rizzo said as soon as the fire department released the scene Wednesday evening, he issued an emergency demolition order on the home.
“The roof was completely burned out. The gable ends were bulging out,” he said. “I was concerned the walls would collapse on their own.”
Because the house was so close to two adjacent homes, “it had to come down,” Rizzo said.
Rizzo said he called Candelora and told him the news. Candelora “asked if he could sleep on it.” Rizzo said he couldn’t wait until the morning because the building posed a threat to public safety. When he learned about the fate of his building, Candelora showed up on the scene.
Fire Chief Michael Grant said Acting Battalion Chief Brian Jooss was up on the third floor with his company of firefighters late Wednesday evening when Jooss spotted someone inside the building with a flashlight. It turned out to be Candelora. Jooss asked Candelora to leave for two reasons: First, the building was not safe. Second, the scene was under investigation. When Jooss asked Candelora to leave, Candelora refused, Grant said. Jooss beckoned the fire investigation unit, which arrested Candelora, Grant said. Grant was not certain of the charge.
Reached Thursday, Candelora confirmed the arrest—but said he did nothing wrong. He said he was “very upset” about the demolition order. He said he returned to the scene at about 7 p.m. and entered his property.
“I wanted to see if I could save my house,” Candelora said. He said he disagreed that the building needed to be torn down immediately. He wanted to see if the building was structurally sound—and even if it wasn’t, if demolition could be postponed. Paying an overnight crew to demolish the house that night would be much more costly than doing the job the next day, he reasoned.
Candelora said he got permission from two firefighters to go into the house. He went in with a flashlight and examined the basement, first and second floors. Then he heard a voice telling him to leave. He said he complied with the order and went into the backyard. He said was held in a police car for two hours. He said he arrested after refusing to answer investigators’ questions without a lawyer present. He said he told investigators “fuck you,” and “I’m done,” because he felt they were “getting in my face” and insinuating wrongdoing.
He was charged with interfering with an officer.
Candelora had fumed at investigators earlier that day because “I felt they were big-time accusing me” of starting the fire. Investigators Wednesday maintained they were not accusing him of any crime and had not even determined whether the case was arson.
Candelora said he was released from custody and given a summons to appear in court on Jan. 3.
He said he’s “very upset” about the demolition and the insinuations that he started the fire. Last year, one of his tenants took him to court over a fire in her Exchange Street apartment. She blamed him for the fire, charging he neglected to inspect a faulty furnace. The suit was ultimately withdrawn.
On Thursday morning, he watched as a demolition crew from Abcon Environmental, Inc. carted off the last loads of rubble.
The rubble revealed several stuffed animals. None of the occupants were allowed to go back inside to retrieve belongings, according to Mark Sergi of Abcon. He said his crew took down the house at around 10 p.m. Wednesday and worked all night on the demolition.
So far, he said, there was no sign of Moutie the black cat, who lived on the second floor and disappeared Wednesday afternoon.
The fire melted some siding on one adjacent house and blew out the windows at 596 George, which is unoccupied. Workers Thursday carried in plyboard to cover up the windows at the stately brick house at 596 George, which is owned by Yale-New Haven Hospital.
posted by: anonymous on December 13, 2012 5:52pm
Glad people are safe - thank you public safety personnel.
That house does not look very “stately” - seems like the hospital would be well served to hire a historic preservation architect so that it isn’t an eyesore within an otherwise beautiful surrounding neighborhood.
posted by: jayfairhaven on December 13, 2012 8:03pm
so, the building was safe enough to support a company of firefighters on the 3rd floor, but not safe enough for the property owner to look around.
long story short. guy’s house burns down, what little is left is razed before his eyes without his consent, and then the fire dept arrests him for swearing. that’s a rough day.
posted by: Jon Doe2 on December 13, 2012 8:43pm
mmmm Now it is just a matter of time before Yale-New Haven Hospital buy this property and adds it to the NO TAX list. This smells like King Johnny all over it.
posted by: Lets Get Real on December 13, 2012 10:25pm
Wow, I can’t believe this “Operation Denz” is replaying itself over in a worse format! Is this a horror movie or real life fire take-down show in the Elm City.
Yesterday on George street we all witnessed a serious blaze, many of us shot video of the NHFD feverishly working to douse the raging fire. However, although it’s not PC, I was present in the rear of the burning house with many others as the firemen took a stand back approach while the house was ALLOWED to literately burn down. While(3)multiple jet-hoses were pouring water in from the front and other ground hoses doing same, in the rear a single hose with a dozen firemen was occasionally being used from firemen on the ground trying to sporadically douses the stubborn flames. WHY???? for more then a half-hour was no ladder truck jet hose brought into the rear of the empty building with a hugelien-edo douse the fire (Got a half hour video to prove as do others who were back there)!!!
Then the landlord runs off his mouth then acts stupidly and gets arrested…
Then almost instantly the Rizzo tear down machine takes down the house without adequate assessment as if this is the only condemned building in our city!
Then the lien gets placed on the landlord by the “pay to play’ City contractor.
Then the Landlord correctly sues the City while collecting Insurance on the burnt edifice, the City will settle for the 30K tear-down and Police overtime…..
Then the City sells the liened lot to YNHH St. Raphael Campus who representatives were present during the blaze and own the building on the corner.
Then the City collects everything and more and Yale is Happy. This is a real horror show with the tenants being the true victims. Outstanding questions how the blaze began (not so smooth fiery history for the landlord, exchange street?? remember!
Finally, the NHFD are heroes and crawled the the inferno to make sure nobody was inside and the rest is Elm City Politics in full form!!
posted by: Wildwest on December 13, 2012 10:38pm
One does not remove asbestos without throwing a giant tent over the entire structure and filtering the air coming out. New lead rules are about the same. So what is this guy in the suit and respirator really doing? certainly this photo is not evidence of the city doing things illegally is it?
posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on December 14, 2012 2:41am
Seems hard that there was no chance for anybody to retrieve anything, from stuffed animals to dishes or other potentially salvageable items.
posted by: FairHavenRes on December 14, 2012 8:48am
As a landlord I find this timeline really concerning and leaves a number of questions unanswered. What is the protocol for declaring that a house must be demolished, and demolished immediately? Is Mr. Rizzo a structural engineer? Does he have to consult with one and have an analysis and report done, complete with photographs?
I’ve always been disturbed by his power to declare something unsafe and then have the evidence completely removed. Even if a house is fully insured for replacement, paying for an emergency demolition might not be—is the City or the landlord responsible for the demolition costs? I would imagine the City would hand the bill to the landlord, unfortunately. This whole incident is very concerning.
posted by: buthieo on December 14, 2012 9:10am
whoever commented on improper demolition of house about tenting whole house with plastic is wrong in sitition like this you keep the material wet there I am the contractor if someone thinks tha the city would allow a illegal removal they are crazy
posted by: MamaBear on December 14, 2012 9:35am
Same question as in previous article… what about the tenants? What do they need and how can people help them get through this terrible time?
posted by: Melissa Bailey on December 14, 2012 12:41pm
Career High staff will be collecting monetary donations next week for freshman Torrai Darden and his family, who were displaced by the fire. The PTO is collecting food.
No word yet on how folks outside the Career community can donate—I’m working on finding out.
posted by: cp06 on December 14, 2012 1:01pm
I am finding some of the comments here incredulous.
Are the commenters experts in fire science or engineering and, therefore, know that this fire and building demolition should have been handled differently? Further, the criticisms of the firefighters and building official are being attributing to some sort of purposeful conspiracy to benefit the city? Beyond not having the expertise to make these claims, there is no evidence that this was done to benefit the city. Yet these comments (in my opinion, of the ilk of the comments that get posted on New Haven Register site with no review) make it through the NHI review and are posted. (Side note—some comments I’ve made, simply questions or corrections to stories are NOT posted.)
Making claims such as these with no evidence is ridiculous and insulting to the firefighters (especially the firefighters!!) and building officials doing their jobs.
posted by: jayfairhaven on December 14, 2012 2:40pm
so candelora was charged for swearing AND being incredulous after his house was demolished. i hope none of the comments posted here get anyone arrested.
thank you, ms bailey, for the update on the collection.
posted by: buthieo on December 15, 2012 4:06pm
I can not believe how ignorant some people are that house was falling down if it did than every one would pointing fingers at Andy rizzo he had no other motive than safety anyone who thinks different should have seen house
posted by: canded on December 15, 2012 6:43pm
Mr C is a respected member of the community. The arson squad did accuse him of starting the fire.kept him that night for over three hours to “question” him. If arson was not suspected then why was he held? no asbestos it was abated when he purchased the building. the mask is because the soot and ash are still hazardous to breath. Rizzo to C he would meet him there to discuss the building and Rizzo never showed up. C was never given an opportunity to hire his own demo contractor. No one in the fire business has ever seen a house come down that quickly especially when arson is suspected. Dangerous to knock down a building at night. Exchange St fire was blamed on gas company, they changed out a part in furnace, which was cause of blaze.
posted by: Melissa Bailey on December 17, 2012 6:08pm
Landlord Ronald Candelora submitted the following comment via email:
Sent: Dec 16 This is from the owner of the house on 594 George ST. First I
would like to thank the New Haven Fire Department for risking their lives in
an effort to save the building, and all the personal contents of my tenants
at 594 George ST.. Secondly the three families’ that I had in that
building were great people and I highly recommend them to any new landlord
as tenants. Thirdly the New Haven fire investigation team investigating this
fire should really go back to school and learn how to talk to people when
investigating a fire. They must have accused me four separate times, of
starting or spreading flammables to cause that fire to spread as it did.
When I was trying to explain what and why they would not listen to me as to
the way this fire started or spread so fast.
I left my home in a rush that morning skipping breakfast because I promised
the tenants I would be there first thing to begin repairing that ceiling I
picked up materials at Lowes got my Helper and went to the house it was a
beautiful morning so I removed my jacket I had just a Tee shirt that is what
I was wearing until 5pm standing outside when the temperature dropped for 5
hours nothing to eat since the evening before, yes I was extremely upset
after being accused 4 times that I intentionally started that fire and
spread a flammable to cause that fire to spread as it did they didn’t want
to talk to me earlier when I couldn’t leave, my truck being smothered in
smoke, but finally when I did want to get something to eat now they wanted
me to stay NO IM LEAVING GOING TO GET SOMETHING TO EAT AND THEN ILL BE BACK
of course when I came back no one wanted to talk to me. I think I know what
started this fire and I also think I know why it seemed to spread so fast NO
ONE WOULD LISTEN THEN THEY JUST WANTED TO PIN THIS FIRE ON THIS RICH
SLUMLOD, as this investigator called me. As for the fire on exchange ST
where the tenant was sewing me, she lost the case.
That night Andy Rizzo called me and stated they were going to knock the
house down I stated I didn’t want it knocked down he stated I don’t care
what you want the equipment is on the way they are going